COVID-19 impacted nearly every aspect of life in New York City in 2020, and COVID infection and death rates were inequitably distributed by both neighborhoods and affected individuals. In the first quarter after the onset of the pandemic, unemployment spiked from around 3 percent to 18 percent. The number of adults in families and children who lived in shelter decreased, but the number of single men who lived in shelter increased rapidly after the onset of the pandemic. Subway ridership dropped over 90 percent in March and remained well below 2019 ridership numbers for the rest of 2020.
Like the section on the city’s housing stock, in this section we mostly use administrative data to focus on topics more directly related to COVID-19. All of the topics, except for income distribution, use data through all of 2020.
Though COVID-19 was present in every neighborhood in New York City, areas outside of Manhattan and northwest Brooklyn had particularly high case rates. Death rates due to COVID did not always correlate with case rates. For example, while all Staten Island ZIP codes were in the top quintile of case rates, most of them actually had lower relative death rates than the rest of the city. Pockets of Queens, particularly East Elmhurst and Corona, had the earliest spikes in cases and ended the year with some of the highest case and death rates in the city. Deaths were more prevalent outside Manhattan. The East New York neighborhood experienced the highest death rate across the city.
In terms of race/ethnicity, Black and Hispanic New Yorkers had higher case and death rates than Asian and white New Yorkers. Hispanic New Yorkers had the highest case rate, at 37.2 infected per 1,000, compared to 31.5 Black New Yorkers, 28.8 white New Yorkers, and 20.2 Asian New Yorkers. Black New Yorkers had the highest death rate at 3.1 deaths per 1,000 people, compared to 2.6 for Hispanic New Yorkers, 2.0 for white New Yorkers, and 1.3 for Asian New Yorkers.
Data from the Department of Labor show that 2020 began with a continued and gradual decline in unemployment, before the rate spiked to 18 percent in the second quarter. As the economy slowly re-opened, the unemployment rate declined. 2020 ended with an unemployment rate of 12 percent. According to ACS data, which is only available through the end of 2019, 3.3 percent of New Yorkers aged 16 or older were unemployed during 2019, a decrease of 1.4 percentage points from 2015, and 3.7 percentage points from 2010.
The share of all households with earnings between $100,000 and $250,000 increased by 4.6 percentage points between 2000 and 2019. The share of households with earnings greater than $250,000 increased by 3.5 percentage points. Both renter and owner households had similar income distribution shifts over the same period, but the most notable changes were the 6.0 percentage point increase in the share of owner households with earnings greater than $250,000, and the 5.9 percentage point increase in the share of renter households with earnings greater than $100,00 and $250,000. The share of renter households on the other end of the income spectrum—those who earned less than $20,000—declined by 2.7 percentage points between 2000 and 2019.
The total homeless shelter population declined by about 5 percent between 2019 and 2020, from 62,321 to 59,202. This overall decline was driven by a decrease in the number of families who lived in homeless shelters. The number of single adults actually increased by almost 7 percent, to the largest population recorded since these data were made available in 1990. Month-by-month, the number of single adult women who lived in shelters remained relatively stable throughout 2020 and did not differ from the population numbers of 2019. At the beginning of 2020, the number of single adult men who lived in homeless shelters was only slightly more than in January of 2019. However, in around April of 2020, the number of single adult men steadily increased month after month through the end of 2020 to a population 12 percent larger than the one in December 2019. It is important to note that data from the New York City Department of Homeless Services only account for individuals living in homeless shelters, not the total number of individuals experiencing homelessness.
The average weekday subway ridership at the beginning of 2020 was nearly identical to the average of 2019. However, after the onset of the pandemic and economic shutdown in March, ridership fell more than 90 percent to a low of about 430,000 entries in April. Ridership remained well below 2019 numbers for the rest of the year, but climbed slightly to about 65 percent of the 2019 average by December. Ridership on the subway, Long Island Railroad, and Metro North declined the most relative to 2019 and suffered the slowest recoveries. Bridges and tunnels (i.e., personal vehicles) had the smallest decline and the fastest recovery and ended the year at over 75 percent of 2019 numbers. City bus ridership had initially recovered at the second highest rate of all transportation modes, but then declined when the MTA resumed collection of bus fares in August.